Members of the Central Falls High School chess team traveled hundreds of miles this weekend to Nashville, Tenn. But far from their home turf, the team’s goal was the same as always: checkmate.
The team, which comprised four students from Central Falls High School and eight middle schoolers, placed in the top 10 in Supernationals, a national chess tournament sponsored by the United States Chess Federation that takes place every four years. Nearly 5,300 fellow chess enthusiasts competed in the tournament.
“This was the best team we have ever had,” said coach and Central Falls High history teacher Frank DelBonis GS’12. “We’ve won more tournaments than anyone in the last decade.”
DelBonis said the team’s “hard work and dedication” helped propel them to the tournament, which he described as the “biggest and most competitive.”
The Central Falls High team placed eighth out of 64 teams.
Central Falls has received negative press in the past few years for its struggling school system, and the city is in state receivership as it emerges from bankruptcy. But DelBonis said the school has “great students and great teachers,” though this is “not always reflected.”
“We have an amazing group of kids,” DelBonis said. “All our chess members were above proficient (academically).”
DelBonis works with Dan Amadio, a math teacher at the high school, to manage the high school and middle school chess teams, while Gina Dufresne, a school psychologist at Robertson Elementary School in Warwick, manages the elementary school chess club. DelBonis said the high school team’s success can be partially attributed to the strong chess foundation many students develop in elementary school under Dufresne.
Bryan Boche, a sixth-grade student at Calcutt Middle School, said Dufresne motivated him to continue playing chess. Dufresne “was always fair and wanted us to do the right thing,” Boche said. He attended the Supernationals tournament to compete against high school students even though he is in middle school.
“I wasn’t nervous,” Boche said, adding that he was very excited to attend and would not have been disappointed if he lost because it was his first time at a national tournament.
The high school team meets twice a week after school to practice and regularly competes in adult tournaments on the weekends to “get ready” for tournaments, said Sam Adofo, a freshman at Central Falls High who has been playing chess since fifth grade.
“We weren’t nervous at all” at Supernationals, said Cameron Pita, an eighth grade student at Calcutt, citing the weekend competitions against adults as very helpful in their preparations to compete against less-experienced peers.
“We were all happy to go,” Pita said. Pita was the team’s highest scorer and tied for 27th place out of approximately 400 competitors in his division at Supernationals. “It was really exciting to be in the top 10,” he said.
Adofo said he “was pretty excited” about the team’s finish, but he said, “I could have done better.”
Chess can help to develop critical thinking skills, said DelBonis, who helped start the team in the fall of 2000. But fundraising for the team is a regular challenge.
“Every year it seems we come up a bit short,” DelBonis said of the team’s finances. This year, the team needed $8,000 to attend the Supernationals tournament.
“We were really worried about it,” DelBonis said. The trip probably would not have been possible without the help of local chocolatier Garrison Confections, he said.
Actor Alec Baldwin, who has previously donated to the Central Falls Public Library, also donated $2,500 to help defray the team’s expenses.
Still, “we want to continue to fundraise,” DelBonis said, to give students more opportunities to compete in local, regional and national tournaments. DelBonis is currently working to establish a scholarship fund to help pay college expenses for team members when they graduate.
Because the team is valuable in so many different ways, DelBonis said, “we want to continue to do this for the kids.”